Dealing with member queries

Members ask UNISON reps thousands of questions every day about pay and conditions, redundancy, health and safety and issues regarding discrimination and workplace bullying.

As a UNISON rep, your job is to help people to take action – not to act in their place. This includes:

  • helping someone to understand their problem;
  • working with them to try to solve the problem;
  • giving honest advice and guidance;
  • seeking help when you’re not sure how to proceed;
  • representing your member on an agreed basis.

Here are some “do’s and don’ts” for union reps to help you support members who are experiencing problems at work.

Do listen to what the member has to say

Listen carefully to the member to get a complete picture of their view of what the problem is.

Do ask questions

You need to know everything about the issue, including the weak points.

Do reflect back what the member says to you

This helps you make sure you have heard them correctly and helps the member think about what their problem is and what they could do to resolve it.

Do guide the member to resolve their problem on their own

In many cases, members may just need more information about their rights, and the confidence to talk to their manager or employer.

As a union rep, your role is to give members the tools to resolve issues for themselves.

Do make a note of the facts

Listen carefully and ask at least five key questions:

  • Who is involved?
  • What is the problem?
  • Where did it occur?
  • When?
  • Why?

Make sure you get all the relevant names, dates and places.

Do check the facts

Check other sources of information and your employer’s procedure.

Identify any agreements or rules that may be involved.

Do assess the case

Is there a case? Tell your member honestly what you think based on the evidence.

If there is a case and the member wants to proceed, discuss what action is possible and what you feel should happen.

If you need to represent the member in taking their case to their employer:

Do prepare your case

Before approaching management, make a plan of the case, which should be based on presenting the facts.

Do check the procedure

Make sure that you have the correct procedure and that every one is following it correctly.

Don’t meet management on your own

Always take the member with you. If you are a new steward, you may want to allow a more experienced steward to present the case.

Do be clear and courteous but firm

If you go to a hearing with a member and need to speak on their behalf, be polite but firm.

Do keep it simple

Make your case clearly and simply, using the facts you have gathered in preparing the case.

Do be clear about the resolution

Make sure that a decision is made and ensure that both you and management understand precisely what the decision is.

Do make a written record

Agree on what will be done next and by whom. Make sure there is a written record of the outcome.

FAQs

Dealing with member queries

  • If I go along with a member to a hearing, what should I do?

    Do not meet management on your own. Always take the member with you.

    If you are a new steward, you may want to allow a more experienced steward to present the case.

    If you are representing the case:

    • be clear and courteous but firm;
    • make your case;
    • make sure that a decision is made and that both you and management understand precisely what the decision is;
    • agree on what will be done next and by whom;
    • make sure there is a written record of the outcome.
  • What do I need to do before the case goes to the employer?

    Before approaching management, make a plan of the case, which should be based on presenting the facts. 

    Make sure that you have the correct procedure and that every one is following it correctly. 

  • What if other members are also having problems with the employer?

    Often a problem for one member may also be a problem that other members have with the employer.

    It is always best to help groups of members solve their problems collectively.

    Group problems also present an opportunity to organise and get any non-members signed up: this will make the case stronger when it goes to the employer.

  • Is there any training to help me?

    UNISON runs courses to support union reps in dealing with grievance and disciplinary cases.

    The training will help you to support your members, know how and when to get help and know the limitations of what is expected of you.

    Find out more about UNISON training and development for reps.